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Disabled Residents Discuss Ways To Improve Scooters With Vendors, City

Following the meeting, attendees had the opportunity to examine the scooters and speak with vendors individually. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]
Four people stand around a set of Lime and Spin scooters and a white cane

Electric scooter use around Cleveland has sparked safety concerns for some residents, particularly those with visual impairments. National Federation of the Blind of Ohio (NFBO) members met with city planning commission officials and electric scooter vendors Thursday to discuss ways to alleviate those worries.

Forum attendees brought up a variety of issues with the current scooters: they’re too quiet to hear over downtown noise, tip over easily and are often left in the middle of the sidewalk. And while contact information for the different vendors is printed on the devices, those stickers aren’t really legible for people with low vision.

“It’s a complex problem, and it’s going to take brainstorming,” said Barbara Pierce, a member of the national federation’s Board of Directors.

NFBO members brought a resolution outlining changes scooter companies could make that would improve the user experience for the disabled, including listing contact information in a way blind pedestrians can access and making websites and apps compatible with non-visual technology.

The resolution also calls on the Ohio state government to establish a minimum sound standard for the scooters while they’re running.

“We are working at the national level to develop model language for legislation to bring to city councils and local governmental bodies, state legislatures, trying to address the problems as we see them, but we’re in the preliminary stages of that,” Pierce said.

The conversation about scooter safety started after a blind resident was injured, said Cleveland Planning Commission Director Freddy Collier Jr.

“As a city, that alerted us to the fact that there are constituencies out there that we have to address and become more intimate with, with respect to this new mobility innovation,” Collier said.

The current trial period with five electric scooters companies in Cleveland is winding down. The city is surveying residents to assess the scooter program’s impact, and several suburbs have begun a survey of their own. Cleveland is expected to draft more permanent regulations for scooters in the spring.

Collier said the Thursday forum offered a chance for the scooter companies to hear feedback directly and make those changes themselves.

Representatives from all five vendors were in attendance Thursday night and had the opportunity to speak about their own efforts.

Will Burns, director of government partnerships for the East Coast at Spin, one of the vendors operating in the city.

Cleveland has taken a careful approach to allowing scooters on the streets, he said, including requiring incentives for safe parking, and barring scooters near stadiums during crowded events. But the vendors could do more, he said.

“We have a bell that’s on the scooter that the rider can use to inform people when they’re coming through, but the idea of the scooter actually making a sound as it moves is a really interesting idea,” Burns said.